Yes, there are bad guys in politics everywhere

In response to the March 18th 2014 article “Yes, There Are Bad Guys in the Ukrainian Government” by Andrew Foxall and Oren Kessler, published on the Foreign Policy website.

The opening paragraph opens well, laying out the fact that Vladimir Putin is “a serial fibber and fabricator”, but ends with a strange assumption, that “western governments and pundits are … wrong to presume his Ukrainian opponents are necessarily in the right.” While it’s common that any new government gets a “honeymoon period” when they take office, in Ukraine’s case the reward for having overthrown a thoroughly corrupt and dictatorial regime has been a crisis of international proportions, the threat of war, and a land grab from their neighbors. No honeymoon, by anyone’s standards.

“The uncomfortable truth” the article goes on to proclaim “is that a sizeable proportion of Kiev’s [sic] current government – and the protesters who brought it to power – are, indeed, fascists.” Well, 5 percent is indeed a “size” of something, as is 25 percent, so this sentence isn’t factually untrue, it is deliberately misleading though. Kyiv’s present government has 20 ministers. These twenty people were appointed by a vote in Parliament and their positions were confirmed by large majorities of these votes in Parliament. Ukraine’s Parliament in its present configuration was appointed in a nationwide election in October of 2012 and is unchanged since then with the exception of a few people who have fled following Yanukovych’s ousting because they are now wanted criminals. So firstly, the government has been appointed by elected representatives of the people of Ukraine and these appointments have cross party support.

The breakdown of members of the government is common knowledge: there are 6 members of the Batkivshina (fatherland) party, 4 members of the Svoboda (freedom) party and 3 activists who were prominent during EuroMaidan. In addition, there are 7 non-partisan members of Ukraine’s present government – professionals with no political affiliations.

In this explanation of the breakdown of Ukraine’s current (and, it should be noted, temporary) government, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the article by Foxall and Kessler ends its second paragraph with the following four words “Ukraine’s resurgent far-right.” The Svoboda party has 4 members of this temporary government, and 20 percent is a number that can be legitimately called a “size”, it is with regard to this 20 percent that the “resurgent far-right” term refers we must assume. Although, such a small number hardly seems to represent much of a threat to anything as any extreme opinion could easily be voted down by the 80 percent of moderates. So, on balance, is there anything to worry about?

The Foreign Policy article opens paragraph three by suggesting that Svoboda are “arguably Europe’s most influential far-right movement today” – really? For sure they’d be flattered to think that they have that much of a platform (while at the same time Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders must be fuming at the thought!) but in reality they don’t. Svoboda is a relatively small party in Ukrainian politics, they have an important voice and have been instrumental in promoting a better understanding of Ukrainian language, culture, and history; but their influence is pretty much restricted to that domestically and is non-existent in other countries.

The third paragraph of the article goes on to quote mine for further proof of the badness of Tyahnybok and Svoboda. While there’s no denying that publicly made statements are fair game, the fact is that if all the authors can do to back up their wild claims is to find a couple of soundbites from several years ago, their argument is indeed very weak, no matter how it is dressed up. If those out of date words are then used in an attempt to smear the reputation of an entire government in a nascent democracy through the loosest of associations and in the blatant disregard of the realities of the small “size” of Svoboda’s representation in that (temporary) government, then it is clearly twisting facts to create an alternate reality. A reality that is best suited to further the arguments that have been put forward to Vladimir Vladimirivych Putin and his propaganda machine as they continue to struggle for excuses to invade more of Ukraine than they already have.

Paul Niland, Kyiv, Ukraine, March 22nd 2014.